Upper Sixth Students Launch Home-Learning Programme on Instagram

Four Withington Sixth Formers have joined forces with students from The Manchester Grammar School and Manchester High School for Girls to launch HomePal, an engaging new home-learning programme aimed at helping younger pupils enhance and enrich their education during the current school closures.

WGS Upper Sixth students Miranda Bate, Shamae Griffin, Maisie King and Amelia O’Hara, are amongst the group of nine volunteers who have been contributing to @HomePal_ (https://www.instagram.com/homepal_/), a free resource available through Instagram that enables followers to access short study sessions in Chinese, Geography, German, English, History, Maths, Science, or Spanish – and Mindfulness has also been included to help support mental health and wellbeing amidst the challenges of lockdown.

Content is primarily targeted at school children in Years 7 to 9, but the contributors say HomePal is attracting users of all ages keen to learn a new skill or subject during the Covid-19 lockdown period, regardless of where they are based – and feedback so far has been very positive.

Lessons are compiled by one or two group members who have each chosen a subject close to their heart to share with followers, with Shamae working on Spanish; Maisie, Geography; Miranda, Maths; and Amelia on History. Using a combination of Key Stage 3 curriculum guidance and the students’ own knowledge, posts are all based on the same template; an introduction, a task for the day and a future steps section, with activities designed to take users through to the next subject post.  The colours blue, burgundy and yellow run throughout the design and have been chosen to reflect the uniform colours of the three participating schools, whilst the name HomePal and the logo, featuring a square graduation cap set over a house icon, were selected to represent the concept of home-learning.

The HomePal project was established just as schools across the country closed due to Covid-19. Shamae explains: “It was the last day we were officially going to be in our individual schools so Sixth Formers from Withington, Manchester High and MGS met in a local park to say our farewells. Each year leavers from our three schools traditionally hold a Summer Ball but with Coronavirus, this year it’s on hold. We all still really wanted to work together on a joint project and the idea of focusing on something educational was floated.  A few Zoom calls later and HomePal was born.”

From an initial six members, the group quickly grew to nine and more students have since shown an interest in contributing too. Though most of the topics on offer so far have an academic element, they are intended to be fun and interaction is actively encouraged.  Shamae now hopes that the Withington community will help spread the word so that more children can benefit from HomePal: “It’s a great way to expand horizons, particularly for younger children missing their usual school environment. It makes them feel they are continuing their educational journey while at home. It’s not meant to replace school remote learning but perhaps enables them to extend their studies and is also an opportunity to try subjects they may not be taking currently, such as Chinese or Mindfulness. We are finding that siblings or parents are pointing them in the direction of HomePal, and then deciding to have a go at some of the subjects themselves too! Please pass on our Instagram details to anyone you feel might benefit.”

The HomePal team aims to continue their work through the summer, with plans to add quizzes, possibly more subjects and to explore opportunities to extend their social media reach through Facebook and other channels.

All contributors have found the HomePal experience has enriched their own lives during the pandemic.  Shamae, who hopes to study Politics and International Relations at university, says: “Giving back to the community is something my parents instilled in me from a young age. Withington has given me so many opportunities throughout my seven years here and, as part of the WGS community and being guided by teachers, we are reminded how lucky we are and that wherever possible we should contribute to society. Now that I’ve come to the end of my Withington journey, it’s great to have a way to use these skills gained over the past seven years to help others.

“The team is excellent to work with – all agree on ideas, each person adds to the project and it’s a personal passion as we’re all able to use our subject knowledge and share it in a way we feel would have been useful to our younger selves. For me, this period, where time seems to stand still, is a unique opportunity and I feel that wherever possible we should help those around us. Since academia is an area that unites the HomePal team, we thought we could share this with younger students initially, with the capacity to move on to other areas that we think will help their mental wellbeing.”

The HomePal volunteers say they enjoy seeing pieces of work returned to them and hearing from users. “I enjoy the HomePal lessons because they have different topics every lesson and even though they are short, you learn a lot from them. They have a lot of key vocabulary in them which I find useful. I especially enjoyed drawing the cells in the Biology lessons and drawing volcanoes in the Geography lesson. Thank you for making the lessons,” wrote one HomePal follower.